This is a very rare, Confederate marked, Kerr Patent .44 caliber revolver made by the London Armoury Company and shipped to the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.
The principal source for information about this Confederate Revolver comes from Confederate Handguns, by William A. Albaugh, III, Hugh Benet, Jr., and Edward N. Simmons, Bonanza Books, New York, 1963. This book has detailed information on the Kerr Revolver and the Confederate purchase of these handguns for Confederate military service during the war.
When the Civil War began, many southerners truly believed “We can whip them with cornstalks!” This sentiment was no doubt coupled with a belief that any war with the north would be a quick and relatively bloodless one. When the hope of a short war was dashed, the new Confederate States of America quickly realized that more than cornstalks would be needed. With the majority of industrial production capacity centered in the northern states, the Confederacy had three options. The first was to use existing stocks of military firearms on hand in the south when the war began. This was a relatively small number, however, many of those on hand in any event were either obsolete or quickly would become so. The second option was to create an internal, i.e., southern capacity to manufacture small arms. This was done, to some degree of success, but the numbers manufactured were never enough to properly outfit forming Confederate forces or to replace losses. The third option was to purchase small arms from foreign manufacturers. This option proved to be the best option although it was complicated considerably by the blockade of southern ports by the U.S. Navy. Arms coming from foreign ports thus had to run the blockade, which was quite successful early in the war with diminished success as the war dragged on.
As one of the first efforts to purchase foreign-made arms, The Adjutant and Inspector General of the Confederate States Army, Samuel Cooper, ordered Captain Caleb Huse on April 15, 1861, to proceed to Europe to purchase small arms for the nascent Confederate Army. One of Captain Huse’s first contracts upon arriving in Europe was with the London Armoury Company of London. On May 21, 1861, Huse wrote to Brigadier General Josiah Gorgas, Confederate Chief of Ordnance, to inform him that the company was under a current contract with the British government and that an additional 18 months would be required before any contract could be completed. The London Armoury Company was, however, willing to accept a contract with the Confederate government for 10,000 rifles upon a quicker timeline if it could, somehow, get released from its contract with the British government.
The London Armoury Company was a private arms manufacturer that was formed just prior to the start of the US Civil War in 1856 in the Bermondsey borough of south London and was a supplemental manufacturer to the Enfield Works for supplying small arms to the British armed forces. The whole issue of a Confederate contract with the London Armoury was further complicated by the fact that the U.S. Government was also in London trying to secure arms and the agent sent to London was Corey McFarland, who, before the war, secured the shipment of machinery from the Ames Manufacturing Company of Chicopee, Massachusetts to London to become the superintending engineer for the new London Armoury Company. McFarland’s apparent advantage did not prove to be lasting, however, and the London Armoury Company would become the unofficial London headquarters for Confederate Army and Navy officers during the Civil War. In any event, the British Government was not willing to release the London Armoury Company from its contract and no rifles for the Confederacy were immediately forthcoming. While the London Armoury Company principally produced rifles, they were also manufacturing limited numbers of revolvers under the Kerr and Adams patent.
J. Kerr of Southwark, England, was granted a patent for his single-action, five-shot revolver on April 14, 1857, and another patent for his double-action, five-shot revolver on August 4, 1863. These were made in both 54 bore (.44 caliber) and 80 bore (.384 caliber). Kerr never manufactured any of these revolvers himself; rather, he assigned his patent rights to the London Armoury Company.
The Kerr is often described as a double-action revolver. That is true as to only the earliest Kerrs produced, but all the later production were of the simpler single-action mechanism. With this simpler single-action type, the hammer must be manually pulled back until it locks in the full cock position. This cocking action causes the cylinder to revolve, thus bringing a fresh chamber into line with the barrel. Once the hammer has been cocked and locked back, the user must pull the trigger to cause the hammer to fall, striking the percussion cap over the chamber and firing the weapon. If the hammer is left down, and the trigger is pulled back, the cylinder will revolve, but the hammer will not be cocked back, as would be the case with true double-action revolver. The term "single action" means that the pulling of the trigger has only one effect—it releases the cocked hammer. In a "double-action" revolver, the pulling of the trigger has two effects—it caused the hammer to cock back, and then as the trigger pull is continued, it releases the hammer. The double-action mechanism in the early Kerrs was more complicated to manufacture and to keep in good adjustment and repair, and was early on dropped in favor of the simpler single-action mechanism. As a result, all of the known Confederate contract Kerr Revolvers were of this later, single-action design.
The London Armoury Company did contract with the United States Government in November 1861, for the purchase of 1,600 Kerr Revolvers at $18.00 each, but these Kerr Revolvers did not have the Confederate acceptance stamp, and all were under serial number 3,000. Newly promoted Major Caleb Huse, along with Captain James D. Bulloch, contracted for all of the revolvers the London Armoury Company could produce and, as a result, all of the balance of the company’s Kerr production, from serial numbers 3,000 to 10,000, about 6,500 in total, went to the Confederacy.
These Confederate Kerr Revolvers are, in almost all cases, marked as a Confederate contract by the presence of the “JS Anchor” mark on the front of the grip panel. This is the “Viewer” or inspection stamp of John Southgate, based on the exhaustive and comprehensive research of Captain Steve Knott, author of The Confederate Enfield. Southgate was a gunmaker in London who was employed at the time of the start of the US Civil War as a gun “viewer” working for the British Government inspecting arms at the London Armoury Company. Southgate was able to obtain a sick leave of absence from the British Government to do the same job for the Confederate Government at the London Armoury Company beginning in the fall of 1861. The anchor symbol is theorized as representing the city of Birmingham, whose inspection symbol was (and remains) an anchor, since Southgate did his final inpectio0n of Confederate arms in that city prior to loading them on ships to run the blockage enroute to a Confederate port. Therefore, the surreptitious “JS/Anchor” stamp is, essentially, the Confederate final acceptance stamp in England of all Kerr Revolvers (and many Enfield Rifles) that were purchased by the Confederate Government and shipped to the south during the Civil War.
The London Armoury Company manufactured Kerrs have engraved on the side of the frame "KERRS PATENT.xxxx" with the xxxx representing a number. This is the serial number of the gun, and not the patent number. This serial number is also on the side of the cylinder. This same serial numbering convention used on the Kerr was used on the Adams Revolver (made by the London Armoury Company, among others), and also is seen on Samuel Colt's percussion revolvers of all models, where the serial number of each revolver (stamped on various places on the Colt revolver) was stamped on the cylinder following the words "COLTS PATENT No. " On the Kerr Revolvers, as with the Adams and Colts, these numbers are sequential and are serial numbers and not the patent number as there was only one patent number for the Kerr single-action type revolver.
This Kerr Revolver, being in the later serial number range, has the second style cylinder arbor pin. The Kerr features a unique, frame mounted cylinder arbor that was removed from the rear of the pistol (much like on the Colt side hammer, aka “Root” designs), instead of the more common location at the front of the cylinder. The first variation Kerr revolvers had a small setscrew on the left side of the frame, forward of the cylinder that prevented the cylinder arbor pin from being withdrawn from the rear of the frame. The later production revolvers, such as this revolver, have a frame mounted spring on the lefts side, similar in appearance to the Model 1851 Adams patent safety, which retained the arbor pin. Early production revolvers had a wide groove in the topstrap, while the later production guns, such as this Kerr Revolver, have a flat topstrap without a groove. The early guns also had a loading lever that pivoted on a screw located at the lower front edge of the frame, under the barrel. The later production guns moved this pivot point higher and closer to the cylinder, making it somewhat stronger and allowing more torque to be applied to the lever when loading tight fitting ammunition.
This particular “JS/Anchor” marked Kerr Revolver is serial number 9700 and is in antique very good plus condition. The Frame exhibits considerable traces of the original dark blued finish in places with the balance exhibiting a plum and pewter patina. The Butt Cap exhibits a mixed plum and pewter patina and both original screws have unmarred slots. The original Lanyard Ring and post are present. The right-side frame extension has the engraved, serif, “LONDON ARMOURY CO.” mark that is still crisp.
The original Hammer is present, and it exhibits a mixed plum and pewter patina. The original hammer screw is present and has an unmarred slot. The knurling on the thumb piece is still crisp. The nose of the hammer, which impacts the percussion cap, is not distorted or damaged. The right side of the Frame has the engraved “KERR’S PATENT.” mark followed by the serial number, also engraved, “9700.” Below and to the right is the factory engraving line and flourish on the ends. That part of the frame below the hammer and cylinder pin retains considerable original blued finish. The Breech Face is clean and exhibits a largely plum patina. The Hand Assembly still retains considerable original blued finish. The Loading Lever exhibits a mixed plum and pewter patina. The lower left side of the frame has the “LONDON / ARMOURY” stamp. The Cylinder Pin lock stud is still present on the left side of the frame and still secures the pin securely.
The original Cylinder Pin is present and exhibits a polished finish on the barrel with a plum patina on both ends. The original Cylinder is serial number matching with “9700” engraved on the side of the cylinder. On the outside of the cylinder, over each of the give chambers, is either the London Proof House crown over serif “V” viewed stamp or the crown over intertwined “CP” proof firing stamps. The Cylinder exhibits a mixed pewter and plum patina on the outer surface. All five original Nipples are present, and all are clear to their respective chambers.
The Trigger Guard exhibits a mixed plum and pewter patina but is very clean throughout. The original Trigger exhibits traces of the original blued finish on the tang portion that extends up into the action with the trigger face exhibiting a largely plum patina. The Trigger still operates smoothly to both advance the cylinder and release the hammer. That portion of the frame around the breech exhibits a mixed plum and pewter patina with old pinprick pitting from firing. The inside, bottom portion of the frame has the assembly numbers “1” and “511.” The matching assembly number is found on the top of the Loading Plunger.
The bottom and lower right and left sides of the barrel retain the majority of the original blued finish. The Loading Lever stud is present, and the Loading Lever friction retainer works correctly to stow the lever. The bore still has strong rifling present with evidence of old corrosion along its length. The original brass front sight is still tightly affixed to the top, front of the barrel. The top, left side of the barrel, just forward of the frame, has the serif “L.A.C.” London Armoury Company stamp followed by the London Proof House crown over intertwined “CP” proof mark and the crown over serif “V” viewed stamp.
The original one-piece English walnut grip panel is present and is in fine condition. The checkering is still relatively crisp throughout with wear to the points towards the bottom. On the front portion of the grip panel is the sans serif “JS” over anchor stamp of Confederate-contracted inspector John Southgate.
This is a very rare and obviously combat used Kerr Revolver used by the Confederacy during the Civil War. This revolver is complete and still functions correctly although there is some play in the cylinder when it is in battery. Kerr Revolvers were highly prized by Confederate soldiers and many were used during the war by Confederate Cavalrymen.